President's Speeches and Remarks

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Saturday, August 25, 2007

Good afternoon and welcome. I'm Barry Mills, president of the College.  I'm pleased to welcome you to Bowdoin College and the Bowdoin community.  The Bowdoin Community—you’ll hear those words a good deal over the next four years, as your children make their way through their time here at Bowdoin.  That’s what we are—a community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and you as parents and family as well.

I’ve been a part of this community since I entered Bowdoin as a first-year student in 1968.  Back then, Bowdoin had fewer than 1000 students—all of them men, most of them from New England and the Middle Atlantic states.  It was an exciting place to be and a challenging time for the College.  My Class of ’72 was the “nifty” Class⎯a group of unique individuals admitted in order to create a well-rounded class.  We were caught up in the passions of the time—student demonstrations, strikes even, the draft, the Viet Nam War and concerns for the future of our democracy.

Today, Bowdoin continues to be a dynamic place, with a history that dates back to 1794.  This campus has seen much of the history of the United States.  As many of the Class of 2012 begin their time at Bowdoin, they will lead Bowdoin into this new time in our history⎯and they are remarkably able and prepared to do so.

In many ways the College has not changed all that much from its beginnings in 1794.  We remain committed to our core values⎯a liberal arts education, serious academic and intellectual pursuit, sound mind and body and the never ending desire to work for the “common good.”  The college remains engaged with the future of our country, the world and our environment, educating a new generation of principled leaders, encouraging participation in community service here and abroad, working to appreciate and preserve our environment.  We are among the oldest colleges in America and our commitment throughout our history to our core values contributes to the fundamental strength of this College.

And, there is the flourishing Bowdoin community.  We are honored that you have entrusted Bowdoin with your sons and your daughters.  They will find here a caring and intellectually thriving environment from which they will move into adulthood.  Bowdoin is a place that helps young men and women leave their comfort zones and discover new talents.  It is a place where they are encouraged to seek challenges, and where they will know friends among the alumni, faculty, and staff.

This College has an impressive history.  Quality, integrity and a commitment to principled leadership are in the bones of this place.  Among the graduates who walked here were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Hawthorne—remarkably from the same Class of 1825; U. S. President Franklin Pierce; publisher, and Bowdoin's first African-American graduate, John Brown Russwurm; and Civil War heroes Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a president of Bowdoin, and Otis Howard, the founder of Howard University in Washington D.C.; Senators George Mitchell and Bill Cohen; Joan Benoit Samuelson.  And from today’s news- Ambassador Chris Hill of the Class of 1974, who is leading the negotiations for the United States with North Korea.   But however grand Bowdoin’s history, its future is just as bright.  Your children will be a part of that future, and you should be very proud.  Proud of them, and proud of the work you've done raising them.  I hope you'll also be proud to be a part of Bowdoin.

What is Bowdoin?  In many ways, in the most important way, it is embodied in our dedicated, brilliant faculty.  They are first and foremost dedicated teachers, scholars of uncommon excellence.  They are also talented, accomplished scholars that create for us an intellectual community that is vibrant, rigorous and challenging.  They devote a huge amount of time to working with students on independent projects or just offering their friendship and advice.  A brief observation⎯every generation of Bowdoin students leaves Bowdoin with the experience of knowing one or two faculty members who profoundly influenced their lives.  No Bowdoin generation believes that the succeeding generations could have such important relationships.  And yet every generation replicates those relationships.  Our academic mission is the core of what Bowdoin is about⎯and our faculty constitutes that core.

Our College is a residential liberal arts college.  What that means is that we believe that it is important and of value for our students to spend the better part of four years on this campus learning in the classroom but also from their peers in this residential setting.  We are committed to the importance of the life of the College since at Bowdoin there are important opportunities to learn and grow in this residential community⎯an opportunity for learning that is different from a big university or certainly very different from distance learning in front of a computer.  Bowdoin believes that there is more to being educated than merely gathering and accumulating facts and information.  It is the shared enterprise of learning⎯from faculty, staff, coaches, administrators and fellow students in an intense four-year residential experience that sets this College apart in important ways from other forms of collegiate education.

Our mission is "to engage students of uncommon promise in an intense full-time education of their minds, exploration of their creative faculties, and development of their leadership abilities" within a liberal arts setting.  I imagine that many of you may have been somewhat apprehensive when your son or daughter began seriously considering a liberal arts college.  Why come to a liberal arts college?  What does a degree in English, or perhaps art, lead to?  Is the science curriculum strong enough at a liberal arts college to prepare a student for serious work in graduate school?  Let me tell you, a liberal arts education, especially one from Bowdoin College will serve your children in countless ways.   I will leave much of the discussion of our academic program to Cristle Judd, our dean for academic affairs⎯but let me speak a bit about something I know a good deal about⎯careers.

You hear a lot today about education that, in a very focused way, prepares for a career.  Students are majoring in information systems, engineering, business, even⎯dare I say⎯the law— they have learned early the notion of specialization.  There's nothing wrong with having a plan for the future, and at Bowdoin your children will have the opportunity to accomplish their goals, whatever they may be.  Bowdoin graduates go on to become leaders in medicine, in science, in business, in public service, in law, in education, and in any other career you could name.  If your daughter wants to be a corporate executive, Bowdoin will give her the tools she needs to get there.  If your son wants to be a high school teacher, Bowdoin will start him on his way.  But an education at Bowdoin—at a residential, liberal arts college—will teach them more than an expertise in their chosen discipline.  Bowdoin teaches students to think independently, to challenge assumptions, to write with clarity, and to listen to and understand different points of view.  It will give them the foundation they need to remain lifelong learners and to be ethical leaders.

A Bowdoin education has an additional characteristic:  an emphasis on serving the "Common Good," which is another phrase you'll hear a lot in the coming years.  The College’s first president, Joseph McKeen, established the ideal of serving the Common Good as a guiding principle for Bowdoin.  “Literary institutions,” he said, “are founded and endowed for the Common Good and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education.”  The College, chartered at the dawn of the American Republic, was meant for the “benefit of society.”

Bowdoin has encouraged that ideal, and it is embodied in the lives and work of people like George Mitchell, Class of 1954, who has worked for peace in Northern Ireland and in the Middle East; like Andy Reicher, Class of 1972, Geoff Canada, Class of 1974, and Ellen Baxter, Class of 1975, who were at Bowdoin with me, and who have dedicated their lives to making a better future for the people of New York City.
With the idea of serving the Common Good in mind, I hope you will encourage your children to be active participants in our larger community.  Nearly three-quarters of Bowdoin students are involved in community service, translating last year alone to 25,000 volunteer hours.

And so, in today’s world so focused on rankings and assessment, on whether there is value to a Bowdoin education, we know from over 200 years of experience that our commitment to the liberal arts and the common good results in our new students graduating four years from now as life-long learners who will follow their predecessors as leaders in all walks of life.

Becoming a part of the Bowdoin community means becoming a part of Brunswick and of Maine.  The College would not be the same if it were in any other place.  Maine is a beautiful and peaceful place, one that will feed their spirits.  But it is also a living laboratory for Bowdoin students and one that will feed their minds.

We at Bowdoin welcome you as parents and family members to our community.  We want you to be an important part of Bowdoin for the next four years and beyond.  Many college presidents and deans lament the involvement of parents in the lives of our college students.  I am sure you have seen the many articles on “helicopter parents.”  The advice many presidents give parents today is to withdraw—allow your students to live their lives.  In fact, we know, I know, that given the world today and our relationships with our children—this won’t and shouldn’t happen.  In our world we should celebrate this new involvement and bond between our children and their parents and it is ironic that colleges and universities criticize these family bonds.  But, you do have to give them “space.”  Read the parents letters, log onto the Web site for college news, subscribe to the student newspaper, come and cheer the Bowdoin Polar Bears on the playing fields, come to the art shows, theatre productions and our dance performances.  Question your sons and daughters about what they’re learning. Test their ability and growth in analyzing problems and communicating.  But please remember that this is their time to try new things⎯to take classes they may find difficult, to learn a new art form, to try a new sport or outdoor activity.  We know from experience that some will not succeed in all that they do here, but nearly all will succeed in much that Bowdoin has to offer, and succeed in truly remarkable ways.  So, most of all, encourage your sons and daughters to be passionate in their Bowdoin experience, to get lost in generous enthusiasms for learning.

Let me take a brief moment to speak to you not as a president of Bowdoin, but as a parent who like you, dropped off our oldest child at college for the first time three year’s ago and are about to send off our second son in a few more days.   In the past years, I could only imagine the anxiety that many of you must be feeling for your children and yourselves, today I am feeling it too. At least in my case, I certainly hope that our children will succeed academically; but frankly what I want is for them is to be happy, fit in, make friends and experience the best four years of their lives.  Will and Henry won’t be here at Bowdoin, but your sons and daughters are.  I have been president of Bowdoin for six years and as I begin my seventh academic year I know many, many students here at our College and many, many families.  From that experience, you can leave here knowing with confidence that Bowdoin is a place where we care about each and every one of our students and make every effort to allow and enable them to chart a course over these four years that will be rewarding to them as they experience it and forever.

Welcome to Bowdoin.

Now let me introduce you to the Dean for Academic Affairs⎯Cristle Collins Judd.  Cristle presides over our faculty and curriculum.  Cristle has been dean at Bowdoin for the past year – now making her a veteran.  She is a professor in the music department.  She comes to us from the University of Pennsylvania where she taught and did research for over 12 years.  Cristle is a musicologist of world renown, the author of numerous articles and books.  She is a brilliant scholar and a fabulous teacher – having been awarded the teaching award for undergraduates at Penn.